Refreshing kids' menus

Every venue that offers food and beverage needs a kids' menu. This includes community leisure venues (CLVs) that are adult-oriented, as during daytimes and early evenings, parents will show up with their children (see last month's article Family time has taken a new meaning).

Most foodservice locations still treat kids' menus as an afterthought with the same hamburgers, chicken nuggets/tenders, French fries, etc. Those menus with a heavy emphasis on fried foods likely explain why a lack of healthy kids' menus is a top concern of parents. Mintel's research found that three-quarters of parents (74%) feel that there are not enough healthy kids' menu options.

Millennials, who are the vast majority of parents of young children, are much more focused on where food comes from, what's in it, how it's prepared and it's healthiness. They are feeding their kids at home much healthier food than the kids menus many restaurants offer. Even the fast food restaurants are starting to get the message about the food parents want their children eating when the go out. McDonald's even reformulated their chicken McNuggets to remove antibiotics and artificial ingredients.

When it comes to flexitarians (see article this issue) LINK, it's not just adults who are going flexitarian; kids are too. And it doesn't have to just be plant-based fake meat alternatives. Perdue Farms has released a line of Chicken Plus (blended) nuggets, tenders and patties that combine the chicken that kids love with the equivalent of one quarter-cup of cauliflower, chickpeas and plant protein per serving. Perdue said the new line is aimed at flexitarian families who are "hungry for new ways to fill the vegetable void without sacrificing flavor or nutrition."

Nancy Kruse, a nationally respected menu expert, has declared refreshing kids' menus as one of the Next Big Things for 2020 and Beyond.

The other issue with kids' menus is that children have gotten more sophisticated in their tastes. They are eating what their millennial parents eat at home. They watch food shows just like adults. They are young foodies in training. They are looking for more adventurous selections; they are more exploratory trying different things each time, especially as they age. In fact, for restaurants that offer kids' menus, most kids older than eight are ordering from the adult menu instead.

Besides upping the selection of grilled and fresh options, many operators are "adulting" their kids' menu options by offering smaller portions of existing full menu selections.

When it comes to creativity with kids' sandwiches, check out these four 2019 top winning children's sandwiches being served in schools from a Food Management magazine competition.

Garlic Bread Grilled Cheese (Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD): Whole-wheat Texas toasted, sliced American Cheese, Garlic powder, parsley. Ye Pork (Kiski Prep, Saltsburg PA): Pork loin, mushrooms, onions, mozzarella cheese and egg (from a medieval manuscript called the Forme of Curry).
Cilantro Lime Chicken Panini (Chartwells K-12, various school locations): Baked chicken breast, caramelized onions, cilantro lime mayo, toasted panini bread. South Padre Sub (Corpus Christi, TX ISD): Turkey breast, caramelized onions, honey mustard, dill pickle chips, whole wheat roll.

[If you're looking for inspiration for some winning sandwiches for adults, check out the magazine's website for a wide selection.]

There can be little doubt that restaurants and all businesses with foodservice, including CLVs, need to reevaluate their current kid menu and bring it up to the expectations and preferences of both parents and children.